MOLON LABE BOTH THEN AND NOW
We, as a nation and the rest of the Western world, are indebted to the Greeks for their culture, government, art, philosophy, and mathematics. Their Weltanschauung (worldview) started more than two and a half millennia ago. It is fortunate that we have that Weltanschauung for it could have been lost during the Dark Ages in Europe (roughly from 476 to 1000 AD). However, that Greek view of much of what we cherish today was kept in the Middle East. Had the Arab Middle East not valued the Greek historic treasures, they would have been lost forever. However, the Arabs acquired and saved what the Greeks valued so much…and the Western world benefitted from that knowledge.
One of the occasions that the Greeks paid for dearly in blood and treasures was at the battle of Thermopylae during August and September of 480 BC. Persians had already lost their first invasion of Greece a decade before at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC. The Greek strategy to defend its homeland from the second invasion by the Persians was to block their advance by both land and sea. The land would be blocked at Thermopylae and the sea would be blocked at Artemisium.
At the battle of Thermopylae, the King Leonidas, the Spartan commander of 300 Spartans and about 1000 other Greeks fought a Persian force ranging from as few as 100,000 to nearly 500,000. Xerxes I, the Persian emperor and commander told King Leonidas to surrender or die before the grossly uneven armies started the battle. Leonidas was not going to give into the Persian invading army and was said to have replied, "Moλωυ λαβε (molon labe)." For those without having taken Greek like I had for four years, that phrase is often translated "Come and get them." This is a video clip of the movie, 300, in which Leonidas gives his response to the surrender ultimatum of Xerxes.
In Greek, moλωυ λαβε is a Greek circumstantial participle; roughly translates "having come, take." In ancient Greek, it is pronounced molɔ:n labé and in contemporary Greek, it is pronounced mo'lon l've. In English, we would say, "Come and get them."
Leonidas had guts to stand against all odds and fight to the death. A couple of months ago, I stood on that battlefield at Thermopylae and saw the statue of Leonidas who fought with his 300-Spartan warriors against overwhelming odds. I took this photo:
I had it enlarged, mounted, and it is now on a wall in my office. As I stood on the battlefield and thought about that great Spartan general's fortitude, I thought several things. "Come and get them" is both a curt and concise phrase that the world now possesses. More importantly, we need to process what it means to us nearly 2½ millennia after the fact.
My first thought was about other generals in the midst of conflicts on their battlefields. During WWII, General McAuliffe was in a similar situation during the Battle of the Bulge. He had captured Bastogne, Belgian from the Germans. However, as a result of the German momentary victories during the Battle of the Bulge, McAuliffe was essentially all alone in Bastogne. German General Luttwitz offered to McAuliffe an opportunity to surrender like Xerxes. McAuliffe made a similar response, like Leonidas. He replied, "NUTS." The Germans knew that the Americans had essentially just told them to go to hell. The following statement was sent from McAuliffe to his troops telling them about his reply to the German general:
Interestingly, General Patton, when told McAuliffe's response, said, "A man that eloquent has to be saved." Interestingly, McAuliffe and his men were saved.
Next, I thought about present-day America. It didn't take me long on the battlefield to see parallels for today. Barack Obama is engaged in his 21st century battle of Thermopylae. The first battle was that of getting nominated and elected as the first black president. Even I, who am the most liberal person you know, thought at first that he wouldn't get elected. Then there was his second battle over healthcare reform. Finally, Obama is attempting to get America's economy turned around after the Bush years. That battle is in the midst of fighting.
Warren Buffett, the second richest man in the US, is assisting in Obama's third battle with his declaration that he is paying 17% of his income to the IRS while his secretary is paying 30% of hers. It also should be noted that Buffett is assisting the president at the age of 81. In addition, it should be noted that this article to assist the president was written by a person that is 68. Where are all the young Turks assisting Obama's modern-day battle of Thermopylae?
After I left mainland Greece, my wife and I went to the Greek islands to enjoy one of the world's most beautiful places…especially the island of Santorini. There I saw it…a tee shirt with a Spartan's military helmet and molon labe written below. I went into the store and brought three tee shirts: one for my son, President Obama, and myself. As I walked on the battlefield of Thermopylae, it came to me that Leonidas' famous statement should become Obama's slogan for the 2012 reelection campaign. Actually, it could become the slogan for his entire presidency.
Obama has told the tea party, birthers, and the radical right that he will engage them on the political battlefields. The first two battles he has won, and the recovery battle is still pending. As with Leonidas and McAuliffe, it takes guts to say in the very midst of the battle, "Molon labe." but that is what courage and vision means. After the battle is won is hardly the time to demonstrate one's guts. Obama, our commander-in-chief, has received help from two old warriors: Buffett and Campbell. However, more is needed.
In my war room, I have a large photo that I took in a Gary, IN high school during Obama's campaign for president. I have an invitation to his inauguration on January 20, 2009, and a photo that I took in Thermopylae of Leonidas—all three in a row together.
They will provide for me guts and determination against the political crazies on the right who are wrong. I look up at all three pictures when writing articles or working on preparing my history classes. They provide a model for this old, liberal warrior and foot soldier. My suggestion for my reader is to look at my models of determination and learn from them from their lives.
While writing this article, I realized that should have gotten Buffett the same tee shirt…. That will take me a couple of weeks, but he too will soon have a moλωυ λαβε tee-shirt.
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